The Price of Malaysia’s Racism

malottMalaysia’s national tourism agency promotes the country as “a bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony.” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak echoed this view when he announced his government’s theme, One Malaysia. “What makes Malaysia unique,” Mr. Najib said, “is the diversity of our peoples. One Malaysia’s goal is to preserve and enhance this unity in diversity, which has always been our strength and remains our best hope for the future.”

If Mr. Najib is serious about achieving that goal, a long look in the mirror might be in order first. Despite the government’s new catchphrase, racial and religious tensions are higher today than when Mr. Najib took office in 2009. Indeed, they are worse than at any time since 1969, when at least 200 people died in racial clashes between the majority Malay and minority Chinese communities. The recent deterioration is due to the troubling fact that the country’s leadership is tolerating, and in some cases provoking, ethnic factionalism through words and actions.

For instance, when the Catholic archbishop of Kuala Lumpur invited the prime minister for a Christmas Day open house last December, Hardev Kaur, an aide to Mr. Najib, said Christian crosses would have to be removed. There could be no carols or prayers, so as not to offend the prime minister, who is Muslim. Ms. Kaur later insisted that she “had made it clear that it was a request and not an instruction,” as if any Malaysian could say no to a request from the prime minister’s office.

Similar examples of insensitivity abound. In September 2009, Minister of Home Affairs Hishammuddin Onn met with protesters who had carried the decapitated head of a cow, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion, to an Indian temple. Mr. Hishammuddin then held a press conference defending their actions. Two months later, Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told Parliament that one reason Malaysia’s armed forces are overwhelmingly Malay is that other ethnic groups have a “low spirit of patriotism.” Under public pressure, he later apologized.

The leading Malay language newspaper, Utusan Melayu, prints what opposition leader Lim Kit Siang calls a daily staple of falsehoods that stoke racial hatred. Utusan, which is owned by Mr. Najib’s political party, has claimed that the opposition would make Malaysia a colony of China and abolish the Malay monarchy. It regularly attacks Chinese Malaysian politicians, and even suggested that one of them, parliamentarian Teresa Kok, should be killed.

This steady erosion of tolerance is more than a political challenge. It’s an economic problem as well.

Once one of the developing world’s stars, Malaysia’s economy has underperformed for the past decade. To meet its much-vaunted goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020, Malaysia needs to grow by 8% per year during this decade. That level of growth will require major private investment from both domestic and foreign sources, upgraded human skills, and significant economic reform. Worsening racial and religious tensions stand in the way.

Almost 500,000 Malaysians left the country between 2007 and 2009, more than doubling the number of Malaysian professionals who live overseas. It appears that most were skilled ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians, tired of being treated as second-class citizens in their own country and denied the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, whether in education, business, or government. Many of these emigrants, as well as the many Malaysian students who study overseas and never return (again, most of whom are ethnic Chinese and Indian), have the business, engineering, and scientific skills that Malaysia needs for its future. They also have the cultural and linguistic savvy to enhance Malaysia’s economic ties with Asia’s two biggest growing markets, China and India.

Of course, one could argue that discrimination isn’t new for these Chinese and Indians. Malaysia’s affirmative action policies for its Malay majority—which give them preference in everything from stock allocation to housing discounts—have been in place for decades. So what is driving the ethnic minorities away now?

First, these minorities increasingly feel that they have lost a voice in their own government. The Chinese and Indian political parties in the ruling coalition are supposed to protect the interests of their communities, but over the past few years, they have been neutered. They stand largely silent in the face of the growing racial insults hurled by their Malay political partners. Today over 90% of the civil service, police, military, university lecturers, and overseas diplomatic staff are Malay. Even TalentCorp, the government agency created in 2010 that is supposed to encourage overseas Malaysians to return home, is headed by a Malay, with an all-Malay Board of Trustees.

Second, economic reform and adjustments to the government’s affirmative action policies are on hold. Although Mr. Najib held out the hope of change a year ago with his New Economic Model, which promised an “inclusive” affirmative action policy that would be, in Mr. Najib’s words, “market friendly, merit-based, transparent and needs-based,” he has failed to follow through. This is because of opposition from right-wing militant Malay groups such as Perkasa, which believe that a move towards meritocracy and transparency threatens what they call “Malay rights.”

But stalling reform will mean a further loss in competitiveness and slower growth. It also means that the cronyism and no-bid contracts that favor the well-connected will continue. All this sends a discouraging signal to many young Malaysians that no matter how hard they study or work, they will have a hard time getting ahead.

Mr. Najib may not actually believe much of the rhetoric emanating from his party and his government’s officers, but he tolerates it because he needs to shore up his Malay base. It’s politically convenient at a time when his party faces its most serious opposition challenge in recent memory—and especially when the opposition is challenging the government on ethnic policy and its economic consequences. One young opposition leader, parliamentarian Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, has proposed a national debate on what she called the alternative visions of Malaysia’s future—whether it should be a Malay nation or a Malaysian nation. For that, she earned the wrath of Perkasa; the government suggested her remark was “seditious.”

Malaysia’s government might find it politically expedient to stir the racial and religious pot, but its opportunism comes with an economic price tag. Its citizens will continue to vote with their feet and take their money and talents with them. And foreign investors, concerned about racial instability and the absence of meaningful economic reform, will continue to look elsewhere to do business.

Mr. Malott was the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, 1995-1998.

Source: Suara Keadilan

Umno-MCA Open Warfare In Tenang Proves BN Collapsing

tony_puaThe open warfare between UMNO Deputy President, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and MCA President, Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek on the simple issue of respecting an individual’s religious sensitivity proves that the BN coalition is a 50-year marriage of convenience which is cracking at the seams.

Muhyiddin had to openly chastise Dr Chua to respect the choices of an individual, particularly one’s religious beliefs, specifically with regard to the issue of Muslim women “shaking hands” with men.  As the Pakatan Rakyat parties have all pointed out, and agreed by Muhyiddin, there are many other issues of importance to discuss in an election, than about whether a Muslim woman should shake men’s hands.

Dr Chua in return, rebuked Muhyiddin for bringing the issue into the open instead of “communicating through internal channels”.  He told reporters yesterday that they could go and tell Muhyiddin what he just said.  Instead of putting the issue to a close, he persisted by repeating his claim that “shaking hands” is “good manners”, implying that the PAS candidate, Cikgu Normala Sudirman had bad manners for sticking to her religious beliefs.

The strain between the two race-based parties is completely understandable given that UMNO and MCA seeks only to draw the votes of Malays and Chinese respectively and do not care about the sentiments of the other communities.  MCA for example, isn’t bother about the impact of its comments on Malay Muslims because it will do all that is necessary, including playing on the fear of Islam to gain the votes of the Chinese.  On the other hand, UMNO will not hesitate to play on the Malay’s fear of losing political power to the Chinese to frighten the Malays into voting for UMNO.

The strategy is failing today because of a more instantaneous and open media catalysed by the online newspapers which transformed the media landscape which was previously controlled with an iron fist by BN.

On the other hand, it is the Pakatan Rakyat parties which have proven itself in slowly but surely disintegrating the racial barriers and silos with its leaders endorsing a Common Policy Platform, and criss-crosses all party ceramahs demonstrating on our ability to speak with a common voice.  It is ironical that while the bonds of the 3 parties in Pakatan Rakyat, which is accused of being a marriage of convenience is only getting stronger by the day with increased understanding and cooperation, the Barisan Nasional is tearing at the seams with its leaders unable to see eye-to-eye with each other.

Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek sheer ignorance and arrogance confirms MCA as the Malaysian chauvinist association with utter disregard for other races, religion and culture and a complete failure of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s “1Malaysia”

In dismissing Muhyiddin’s “instruction” to stop playing on the issue of handshakes, Dr Chua pleaded ignorance about the religious sensitivities by arguing that he does not practice Islam.

He was quoted saying “So what is so great about that? That is your religious value which I don’t know.  How am I to know about the religious values when I’m not practicing that religion?”

He further argued that “…I have a right to say that its basic manners to shake hands with people.  That’s my values.  Understand? You must also value my value, which is good manners, which include shaking hands.”

The fact that he claimed he is completely ignorant about Islam just because he is not a Muslim proves that the MCA President and his party are chauvinists who have little regard and respect for other religions and cultures.

Dr Chua makes a complete mockery of the Prime Minister’s “1Malaysia” slogan by admitting that he is completely separated from the other communities in the country and is completely not interested in integrating with them through greater race and religious understanding.  This is despite the fact that he has spent more than a decade as a senior Johor state executive councillor and a Cabinet Minister.

His statement that “you must also value my value, which is good manners” smacks of unbridled arrogance where he expects Cikgu Normala and other Muslims to accept and adopt his moral values, despite his own lack of understanding and interest in the values of other communities.  It is difficult to a more bigoted statement than what Dr Chua told the press yesterday.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Datuk Chua Tee Yong shows he’s not a man of his words for the unbelievable flip-flop over his baseless accusation that Cikgu Normala Sudirman questioned a coffee shop owner for selling alcohol.

Yesterday, the China Press reported that Deputy Agriculture Minister and MP for Labis Datuk Chua Tee Yong accused Cikgu Normala of questioning a coffee shop owner for selling beer during her walkabout.  The accusation was obviously a ploy to scare the non-Malay community that PAS will curtail the rights of non-Muslims if they were to win the by-election.

PAS Johor had given Chua 24 hours to apologise and retract his false allegations or face the threat of a defamation suit.  In an immediate response to The Malaysian Insider over the issue, Chua stood by his remarks by refused to name the shop.

Chua was quoted as saying “Of course I cannot name the shop. The owner wants to remain anonymous.”

However, within a few hours after the above comments, Chua now denies ever having made the accusation. He explained that he was merely conveying the fact that a voter had asked him about a “hypothetical” situation should she win the by-election.

Even a twelve year old would have found his denial hard to believe.  I strongly advise Chua to be man enough to admit to his mistake and apologise to Normala for having made the baseless accusation against her, instead of attempting to cover a lie with a bigger one, and as a result, digging a deeper hole for himself.

If he still insists on sticking to his new version of the story, then I call upon Chua to demand that both China Press and The Malaysian Insider to issue a correction to the story as well as an apology for the blatant and grievous error which has been committed.  This is because if Chua didn’t make the allegation against Normala, then both the reporters must have independently made up the story.

Should he try to evade the issue by remaining elegantly silent, that he has completely his credibility and integrity, and is unfit to be the people’s parliamentary representative in Labis, much less a Deputy Minister.

Tony Pua

Source: Suara Keadilan